Measles: The New Red Scare

In 2019, an article titled “Measles: The New Red Scare” revealed several key anti-vaccine techniques. It ridiculed parents who wanted to protect their children against measles, saying they fell into an “emotional fear-based primal mental algorithm”. It asked its readers to “to step back from the hysteria”, and minimized measles deaths in children by arguing that hardly any died prior to the vaccine. It said:

In fact, if we look at all the causes of death from the United States Vital Statistics in 1962, we see that measles accounted for 0.02% of deaths that year…In 1962, measles was sixth from the bottom for causes of death. You can look through the list of causes of death and find almost everything from “Birth Injuries” at 28,199 to “Ulcers” at 12,228 to “Asthma” at 4,896 were far higher than the 408 deaths attributed to “Measles” that year.

These are standard an anti-vaccine sleight of hand tricks. Through mockery and irrelevant comparisons, anti-vaxxers have one revolting goal: to make you yawn at dead children.

Of course, it’s appropriate for parents to fear measles, and the only numbers that matters are these:

Before the measles vaccination program started in 1963, an estimated 3 to 4 million people got measles each year in the United States, of which 500,000 were reported. Among reported cases, 400 to 500 died, 48,000 were hospitalized, and 1,000 developed encephalitis.

That is a huge number of dead and suffering children, not hardly any. Happily, the measles vaccine wiped that all way. Though the future may be grim, at least for now, American children aren’t dying of measles. That’s a good thing. As vaccine-advocate Noah Louis-Ferdinand said:

One of the great achievements of US public health is that almost all kids reach adultment. Thats like a whole generation of heartbreak made very rare. So when we have the opportuntiy to reduce it *even further* with a vaccine, you take it.

You don’t say, “eh that’s not that many.”

Doctors and measles

When it comes to measles, every reasonable doctor agrees with Mr. Louis-Ferdinand. Dr. Vinay Prasad recently wrote, “Measles can be a devastating childhood illness”, and he is absolutely right. Indeed, before the pandemic, normal doctors were rightly bothered when children suffered needlessly from measles, or any other vaccine-preventable illness for that matter. Measles outbreaks got international attention, because they were easily preventable, and they revealed a broader truth about the potential of misinformation to cause real suffering.

In 2019, for example, anti-vaccine activists fueled a measles outbreak in Samoa causing 83 deaths, mostly in young children. In December that year, Dr. Zubin Damania (ZDoggMD) recorded a podcast titled Deadly Samoan Measles Outbreak, What Can We Learn? In it, he rightfully pushed back again the idea that we should accept children dying from measles simply because hardly any died. He said:

The tragedy of measles deaths in Samoa is a stark warning: NEVER listen to the anti-vax cult when they say this “natural” disease is harmless.

He pitched the episode on Twitter by saying:

Measles outbreak in Samoa, 60 dead (mostly children under 4), and the antivaxxers will say measles is a safe and natural childhood rite of passage.

Like Dr. Prasad, Dr. Damania was absolutely correct about all this. Measles is not harmless just because it is natural and the preventable deaths of children should not be brushed off just because hardly any died. No reasonable doctor argued with Drs. Prasad or Damania or accused them of “breathless fear mongering” for telling the truth about measles. It used to be normal for doctors to be upset when several hundred unvaccinated kids contracted measles, even though none died, thankfully. In fact, prior to the pandemic, normal doctors agreed that even a single child dying of a vaccine-preventable disease was a big deal. Only quacks shamed parents for “fearing” measles or argued that we should let it kill and maim children today, because more died of asthma in 1962.

Doctors and COVID

Things are very different with SARS-CoV-2.

In April 2021, two months after recording The End of the Pandemic with Dr. Monica Gandhi, Dr. Damania recorded Focused Protected for COVID with Dr. Jay Bhattacharya. Dr. Bhattacharya is an anti-vaccine misinformation doctor who never treated COVID patients, but claimed herd immunity would arrive in 3-6 months if only 250 million unvaccinated, “not vulnerable” Americans contracted COVID simultaneously in October 2020. In this podcast, Dr. Damania heaped praise on Dr. Bhattacharya for his plan of mass infection of unvaccinated youth saying, “You’re fearless, you’re compassionate, you’re rational.” He also said:

Even though this thing (COVID) has killed less than you know, or, or about as many as flu would kill in a normal year in kids, I say hardly any.

By this point in the pandemic, the American Academy of Pediatrics reported 297 pediatric deaths – hardly any according to Dr. Damania. Millions more children had yet to be infected, and around 2,000 children have now died of COVID. As with measles, COVID can injure children without killing them. Nearly 200,000 children have been hospitalized with COVID, and some were very sick, needing mechanical ventilation in the ICU. Rarely, children have strokes, or required amputations or lung transplants. Nearly 10,000 children suffered from MIS-C, and most of these children go to the ICU. 79 children died from MIS-C. Other children are gravely impacted by Long COVID. All of this would have been much worse had we allowed 73 million unvaccinated children to simultaneously contract COVID as many doctors proposed.

Measles once exacted a nearly identical toll on children, and COVID’s pediatric impact greatly exceeded that of many other diseases for which we vaccinate children. Of course, it doesn’t matter exactly where COVID ranks on the list of deadliest viruses. Multiple pathogens can hurt children, and it’s entirely appropriate to protect children against all diseases that pose a risk to them. Before the pandemic, it wasn’t controversial to use vaccines to save the lives of hardly any children.

COVID’s pediatric death toll, compared to other vaccine-preventable diseases

How things have changed

And let’s review how much things have changed. During the pandemic, many doctors underwent a dramatic transformation, where justified anger about suffering children was replaced by a casual indifference and mockery, only because a different virus was injuring and killing children. In 2019, Dr. Damania was rightly enraged by children dying of measles, even though hardly any died, just a few dozen. In 2021, however, he said hundreds of dead children was hardly any, only because COVID was the cause.

Dr. Prasad, who said “Measles can be a devastating childhood illness”, routinely minimizes COVID using the same mockery and rhetorical chicanery as the author of “Measles: The New Red Scare“. He’s argued that unvaccinated children should contract COVID because more die of suicide, for example, and routinely belittles those who disagree, accusing them of “breathless fear mongering”. He implied that children killed by COVID aren’t “real lives” and that we should accept their deaths “as a matter of course“. He’s mocked Andrew Wakefield, while mocking those who exposed anti-vaccine data fraudster, Dr. Joseph Ladapo.

Other doctors wrote articles titled The Triumph of Natural Immunity and Tweeted “natural immunity wins again“. They said young people should not fear literal death from COVID, because only 4,560 young people died in the pandemic’s first 5 months – hardly any. These same doctors said rare vaccine side-effects, which are milder than, say, literal death, demanded “respect“. They advocated the mass infection of unvaccinated youth, and some treated the consequences as a joke.

Before the pandemic, a doctor who called vaccine-advocates “idiots” or used a laughing emoji to discuss children sickened by measles would have rightfully been a pariah in the medical community. Today, they get promotions.

Today, a virus that sickens and kills children is 😂

Most children with COVID do well. Most children with measles do well, as anti-vaxxers point out frequently. The COVID vaccine is not perfect. The measles vaccine is not perfect, as anti-vaxxers point out frequently. Measles and COVID are different, of course, but they are not categorically different. With both viruses, unvaccinated children suffer the most. The COVID vaccine is not as effective as the measles vaccine, sadly, but this is not a reason to not use it. These vaccines are not in competition with each other, and the COVID vaccine has already spared a meaningful number of children from rare, but grave harms. A recent study of children under 5-years, those with the highest risk by far, found:

That children who received two or three doses of the updated COVID-19 vaccine were 70% less likely to wind up in the ER or urgent care due to COVID and 60% less likely to see their doctor compared to unvaccinated kids.

Dozens of other studies show similar results. There’s no clear difference I can see between a doctor who spreads misinformation about measles and one who spreads misinformation about COVID.

Unfortunately, many doctors made it a core mission to discourage pediatric vaccination – for COVID, not measles. We all agree, only a quack would encourage parents to leave their children vulnerable to a dangerous disease like measles. However, these doctors acted as if there were a core, fundamental difference between a child killed by measles and one killed by COVID. One would be a grave tragedy, while the other “breathless fear-mongering”.

In reality, the only difference between a child killed by measles and one killed by COVID, is that children killed measles don’t exist in the US. Blessedly, measles has not killed an American child in over 30 years. That’s not true for COVID. Tragically, there are children who would still be alive had they been vaccinated against COVID. Am I “off my rocker” because I think that’s sad and want to prevent similar tragedies in the future? Or is it strange that doctors feign concern about viruses that killed zero children for the express purpose of leaving them vulnerable to a virus that killed 2,000 children?

Viruses that killed 0 children are “truly dangerous” compared to the one that killed 2,000 children.

Why I care

I write about this topic so often, because I fondly remember the days – not long ago! – when all reasonable doctors told parents, “NEVER listen to the anti-vax cult when they say this ‘natural’ disease is harmless”. I remember when it was normal for doctors to be upset by any unvaccinated child suffering from any vaccine-preventable disease. I haven’t changed a bit. I still feel this way, even though this belief now makes me the object of scorn and contempt from some of my fellow doctors. On a personal level, it’s dizzying to be called a “book-selling schmuck” and similar juvenile japes simply because I still believe what all reasonable doctors once believed: we should use vaccines to save children from grave harms, even if it’s hardly any children.

I write about doctors who now plagiarize anti-vaccine talking points to infect children with SARS-CoV-2, not just because I disagree with them, but because I admired many of them a great deal. I didn’t expect better from quacks. However, I expected better from them. I suspect their pre-pandemic selves would agree. During his 2021 podcast, the 2019 version of Dr. Damania made a momentary return and asked about his own “hardly any” comment:

I mean, again, it’s not, that’s not that’s not compassionate to the people who’ve lost children. Right?


Doctors would have cared, had she died of measles


  • Dr. Jonathan Howard is a neurologist and psychiatrist who has been interested in vaccines since long before COVID-19. He is the author of "We Want Them Infected: How the failed quest for herd immunity led doctors to embrace the anti-vaccine movement and blinded Americans to the threat of COVID."

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Posted by Jonathan Howard

Dr. Jonathan Howard is a neurologist and psychiatrist who has been interested in vaccines since long before COVID-19. He is the author of "We Want Them Infected: How the failed quest for herd immunity led doctors to embrace the anti-vaccine movement and blinded Americans to the threat of COVID."